New requests for unemployment aid have dropped to a four-year low in South Florida, as the labor market slowly recovers from the recession.
The latest tally of first-time claims for unemployment insurance mostly capture the trend of hiring for 2012: better, but not great. Combined claims in October dropped 8 percent from 2011 levels, which shows improvement but isn’t close to the 25 percent drops seen at the start of 2012.
Job growth has followed a similar track this year: up, but anemic compared to gains seen in 2011 and early 2012. On Friday, South Florida receives its October employment report, and economists will be looking for hints of a pickup.
“The Miami-Dade economy was riding high in 2011, but it hit a soft patch this year,” said Karl Kuykendall, an economist for IHS Global who follows the Florida economy. “This year has been rather disappointing.”
One of the big switches this year was a slowdown in hospitality hiring, which had driven many of South Florida’s impressive employment numbers as the recession ended. But continued declines in government and construction employment remain big anchors on the rebound.
Ann Machado, president of the Creative Staffing employment firm, said the presidential elections prompted a number of firms to hold off hiring decisions before November. At a recent gathering of fellow staffing executives, Machado said most colleagues were encouraged.
“Everybody said business was up,” she said. “There’s a general feeling that we’re getting there.”
In Broward, 6,345 people filed first-time unemployment claims in October. Using a three-month average, that’s down 12 percent from filings in October 2011. In Miami-Dade, 9,620 people filed for their first unemployment benefits in October, down 5 percent from a year ago.
Declining claims suggest South Florida employers haven’t launched significant layoffs since the September employment report, when job growth was modest. Economists expect significant layoffs across the country if Washington cannot resolve its budget crisis. Steep spending cuts and widespread tax hikes will take effect Jan. 1 if Congress and the White House can’t agree to a debt-reduction plan or some other alternative. Most forecasts assume a resolution to the “fiscal cliff,” but the details could be crucial.
Should businesses and consumers embrace a compromise, it could be the trigger that turns a modest economy into something more robust.
“It doesn’t take much for the economy to really get moving,” said Chris Lafakis, an economist who follows the Florida economy for Moody’s. “Because the seeds of a strong recovery have already been sown.”